Seanad Éireann - Volume 157 - 09 December, 1998
Bicentenary of 1798: Statements.
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. S. Brennan) Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. S. Brennan)
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. S. Brennan): This has been a wonderful bicentenary year and I feel privileged to have served as chairperson of the Government's 1798 commemoration committee. At the outset I wish to acknowledge the work of my predecessor, Senator Avril Doyle. I sought to build on the foundation of the work she had done and to ensure that the commemoration was dignified, appropriate and totally inclusive. We set out to avoid what we identified as a flaw in the commemorations  of 1898, 1938 and 1948. That is the excessive emphasis on the Catholic Nationalist version of the rebellion which saw 1798 only as a crusade for faith and fatherland. Inevitably, that partisan approach alienated many others, including the descendants of the Ulster United Irishmen who had been so much to the forefront in the 1790s. I wish to acknowledge again the work of Senator Doyle and congratulate her on her great work which made my task substantially easier. I tried throughout the year to refer to Senator Doyle's involvement because the bicentenary belongs to all of us.
Mrs. A. Doyle Mrs. A. Doyle
Mrs. A. Doyle: I thank the Minister.
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
Mr. Brennan: My committee sought to take advantage of the fresh interpretations of 1798 which have been offered in recent years, notably by Louis Cullen, Marianne Elliott, Tom Bartlett, Daire Keogh, Kevin Whelan and Nicholas Furlong. This new interpretation, broadly accepted by the main historians who work actively on the period, stresses the political rather than the purely military aspects of the 1798 Rebellion. It emphasises that what happened in Ulster was of a piece with what happened in Leinster, restores Belfast and the Presbyterian United Irishmen to the centre of the picture, presents the United Irish movement as democratic, pluralist and forward looking and carefully exposes the propaganda which has infected so much of the received wisdom on 1798. Yet, we did not seek to suppress or to occlude the less positive features of the 1798 Rebellion which was a bloody affair and was marked, regrettably, by atrocities on all sides.
From the beginning the Government's 1798 commemoration committee sought to incorporate this fresh thinking into the commemoration programme and to work closely with the distinguished historians of the period. In this sense, rather than the Government presenting an agenda to the historians, the historians presented an agenda to the Government. Everything my committee did was firmly guided by a concern to be as truthful as possible in our interpretative programme to the history of 1798 as it is understood by the current generation of scholars. The Rebellion took a grim toll of lives and saw some deplorable events but taken in the round, the period was essentially marked by a nobility of vision and action on the part of the United Irishmen in which we can legitimately take the pride which so strongly infused people and communities throughout the country in this bicentenary year.
If we were concerned with accuracy and with bringing these new interpretations to public notice, we were also concerned that 1798 should not become the preserve merely of academics. We wanted local communities to take ownership of the commemoration and we wanted the message to spread as widely as possible. We responded where we could to local initiatives and I am happy that there was a terrific community response and that we were able to help so many  worthy initiatives to get off the ground throughout the country. Here I want to pay a personal tribute to the tremendous commitment which these local communities brought to the commemoration of the parishes' role in 1798. I was deeply moved by the strength of feeling which 1798 still evokes and by the dignity with which communities honoured their ancestors' honourable pursuit of the democratic freedom which we take so much for granted.
The degree of voluntary effort was amazing and there was a genuine grass root involvement, spanning the entire community. Inevitably, the epicentre of the Rebellion in south Leinster, particularly County Wexford, was very much to the fore in this regard. I am, however, happy to say that the commemoration caught the public imagination and that there were worthwhile activities across the whole island. The Government's committee was able to help projects in more than 20 of the 32 counties.
I want to single out for special mention the contingents of pikemen and women——
Mrs. A. Doyle Mrs. A. Doyle
Mrs. A. Doyle: And children.
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
Mr. Brennan: ——from the various parishes who did so much to add colour to the huge number of events which took place throughout the country. I was delighted that so many women and members of many different religious groups felt sufficiently encouraged to become involved. I was also very pleased that there was no knee-jerk association between the pike and the Armalite which would have sullied the ideas of the United Irishmen and their ideals.
It was also remarkable that this year witnessed a momentous event in our history — one in which we can all take pride — the signing of the British-Irish Agreement. The 1790s witnessed the beginning of our current predicaments; it was when unionism and nationalism split. It was, therefore, highly appropriate that the bicentenary year should witness the most imaginative and farreaching effort to bridge that historic divide by trying to construct a set of complex political arrangements which would allow both traditions an honourable accommodation.
I feel the British-Irish Agreement seeks, not unlike the United Irishmen, to create a pluralist, democratic and inclusive settlement and to rid our societies, North and South, of the cancers of violence and sectarianism. In many ways the British-Irish Agreement is the single most fitting memorial to the principles of the United Irishmen.
I was very pleased, therefore, by the renewed interest which 1798 evoked in the north of Ireland this year. A wide range of events and activities took place there and were very well attended, including outstanding exhibitions by the Ulster Museum and the Linenhall Library. At an early stage my committee held a co-ordination meeting with relevant bodies and persons in Northern Ireland. We sought to support cross-Border  initiatives where possible and the performance of the Mozart Requiem in Wexford, Dublin and Belfast was one such example.
I was also delighted we were able to assist RTÉ in producing their three part documentary series Rebellion. This attracted very high viewing figures and was, therefore, extremely important in communicating a sense of the historic events in 1798 and their significance and legacy to as wide an audience as possible. I would also congratulate T na G and BBC Northern Ireland for their fine 1798 programmes.
There were so many events that took place in this bicentenary year that it is invidious to single out any one of them. I was especially pleased that we were able to unveil a very fine 1798 Memorial Park at Croppies Acre which put Dublin very firmly and permanently on the 1798 map. I was pleased last weekend to open the conference to commemorate the convening of the Back Lane Parliament of 1792 in The Tailors' Hall.
I am proud that my committee was able to fund fine projects, such as the Film Institute of Ireland's 1798 film festival, the National Museum and National Library's 1798 exhibition, the publication of Wolfe Tone's diaries, the Linenhall Library's exhibition and the Dublin/Belfast 1798 conference.
I congratulate all who contributed their effort, time, imagination and money to ensuring that the bicentenary was appropriately marked. In particular, I would like to thank and to pay a tribute to the members of the Government's 1798 commemoration committee for their dedicated and creative input; to Professor Kevin Whelan, the consultant historian to the National Commemoration, for his scholarly and balanced advice and, indeed, for his infectious enthusiasm; and to the secretary of the National Committee, Ms Alice Kearney and the colleagues who served with her in the commemoration office of the Department of the Taoiseach, for commitment way beyond the call of duty.
In regard to the commemorations of both the Great Famine and the 1798 Rebellion, Ms Kearney has given a remarkable example of dedicated and effective public service, was always cheerful and courteous and has earned the respect and affection of all those throughout the country who have been involved in the commemorations.
Senators, I think we have had a fine year. We approached it with dignity, we learned a lot and we have come away with a renewed respect for the principles of the United Irishmen and a determination to put their ideals into practice in the modern world of 1998. As the new millennium approaches, this is the most appropriate living memorial to the men and women of 1798.
Mrs. A. Doyle Mrs. A. Doyle
Mrs. A. Doyle: I thank the Minister of State for his kind words. As his predecessor, it was my great pleasure and honour to act as national chairperson of the 1798 commemoration committee. In borrowing his own words, I thank him for  the dignified, appropriate and inclusive way he continued the committee in the spirit in which it commenced. The fact that a Government can hand a project across the House is a good example of what non-sectarian, pluralist democracy is all about. The bottom line in terms of how we commemorated 1798 was trying to rediscover truth that had been buried in previous commemorations over the years.
I would like to endorse what the Minister said in relation to the various 1798 commemorative projects, whether in Wexford, Dublin, across the Border or elsewhere. This year has been a wonderful experience from the smallest local initiative to the major national and international projects which revisited and rediscovered the principles of 1798 which drove the United Irishmen and women.
The 1790s was arguably the pivotal decade in the evolution of modern Ireland. It presents an interesting interplay between Irish and international forces, when what happened on this island was inseparable from a wider global setting. The 1798 Rebellion linked Ireland in very special ways with America, France and Australia, in particular, making a permanent and indelible contribution to the evolution of the Irish diaspora.
The year 1798 also casts a long shadow. The resonant and romantic names of Theobald Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCraken, Beauchamp Baganel Harvey, Thomas Russell, Robert Emmet, Lord Edward FitzGerald, Father John Murphy and Myles Byrne, among others, were to reverberate down the echo chambers of Irish history. While physically defeated, they achieved a remarkable symbolic victory which has ensured their undying fame.
If the 1790s can be seen as the pivotal decade in the evolution of modern Ireland, then an honest and accurate understanding of it is not just of scholarly interest but has important implications for current political and cultural thinking. It is precisely because of its enduring relevance that 1798 has never passed out of politics and into history.
A window of opportunity was opened in Ireland by the impact of the American and French Revolutions. That moment was brilliantly seized by the United Irishmen who imaginatively created a vision of non-sectarian, democratic and inclusive politics which could attract and sustain all Irish people in all their inherited complexities. By facing into the future rather than the past, they wished to heal the hurts of Irish history in a brotherhood of affection.
The enduring legacy of the United Irishmen was their momentous ability to bring Dissenter, Anglican and Catholic together in a shared political project. We now know from more recent scholarship that that generous project was deliberately derailed by counter-revolutionaries in the 1790s, largely through the injection of sectarianism to break the United Irishmen's non-sectarian  appeal. We are still living with the consequences of that defeat.
The United Irish project of an inclusive, democratic, non-sectarian Ireland remains uncompleted today. Understanding the reasons for its momentous defeat in the 1790s can help to ensure that history does not tragically repeat itself. I fully agree with the Minister of State, Deputy Brennan, that the greatest commemoration of 1798 has been the British-Irish Agreement of Good Friday this year.
One lesson we need to heed is the divisive role of propaganda and selective history. The propaganda war which ensued after 1798 ensured that the real principles of the 1790s were buried in a welter of recrimination and political point scoring. In the acrimonious and anxious aftermath of 1798 and the Act of Union, control of the interpretation of the Rebellion became a vital component of many political agendas. Considerable energy was invested in portraying the 1798 Rebellion as a mere sectarian and agrarian revolt of ignorant Catholic peasants, in an effort to detach Presbyterians from the emerging democratic movement.
I hope that these deliberate falsifications have been swept away by our bicentenary commemorations and that we can once more see the 1790s in their true context. By relieving the Rebellion of its oppressive weight of misrepresentation, 1798 ceases to become divisive. The marvellous recent works on the period have begun to make 1798 available precisely in that fresh way, opening an invigorating and more generous space in which to consider it.
Our commemoration has helped us to discard the now discredited sectarian version of 1798. The Catholic Nationalist version, which dominated the 150th centenary commemorations in 1948, has largely been abandoned in favour of a pluralist, non-sectarian approach this year, which more accurately reflects what the United Irishmen envisaged.
We also stressed the modernity of the United Irish Party, its forward looking, democratic dimension and largely abandoned the outdated agrarian or peasant interpretation of what it was all about. We emphasised the essential unity of the 1798 insurrection. What happened in Wexford was part of what occurred in Antrim and Down.
Throughout 1998 efforts were made to relinquish our obsession with the military aspects of 1798, including pikes and deaths, murder, mayhem and martyrdom. I concur with the Minister of State in complimenting the contingents of pikemen, women and children of all denominations who turned out in good weather and bad for the last 12 months. They represented what the original pikemen actually stood for 200 years ago, when men and women, Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter held pikes in the battlefields. It was an excellent representation by all those contingents, whom I congratulate for their accurate portrayal of what 1798 was all about.
 We stressed the living principles of democracy and pluralism which the United Irishmen so notably formulated. Too much emphasis on the gory details of the campaign can only distract us from the enduring legacy of the Rebellion — the political vision and moral choices which impelled men and women into the field in 1798. It is that political vision we need to reclaim and remember, not the physical defeat of the revolution on the bloody battlefields of that time.
During the year we also, particularly in Wexford, constantly reminded ourselves of the international perspective of the United Irishmen, linking Bunker Hill, the Bastille and Boolavogue, and stressing the enduring links which 1798 forged with America, France and Australia. We constantly stressed that 1798 and Wexford were not cabbage patch skirmishes but part of a national campaign, indelibly linked to what happened elsewhere, and especially in Ulster.
Our commemoration throughout the year was international and national as well as local. We were generous in our acknowledgment of the Ulster dimension and especially of the enormous contribution of the Presbyterian tradition, with its enlightened emphasis on justice, equality and civil liberty. I hope in all these ways we helped to make the bicentenary more open, inclusive and dynamic and that we made it speak to the people as a whole, including our diaspora. We used the 1790s as a vision and inspiration for the 1990s.
I can be forgiven for dwelling on the Wexford story in more detail having lived in that county for 27 years and been a democratically elected public representative of the people of Wexford for 25 years. On 21 December 1792 the bearer of a great County Wexford name, a former French Army Officer, Captain Sweetman, announced to the Dublin Society of the United Irishmen the inauguration of a branch of the United Irishmen in Gorey in County Wexford. The planting of political revolution and evolution had taken place in County Wexford, a county of extraordinary strategic importance on the Irish Sea and Atlantic Ocean coasts.
The Dublin society had already been joined by supporters of the liberal Protestant party in County Wexford, the best known of whom were the popular barrister and landlord, Baganel Harvey and his brother James — a direct descendent of both these men is a neighbour of mine in the village of Crossabeg, Mr. Robert Harvey — William Hatton of Clonard, Samuel Cooper, John Grogan of Helfield, Anthony Pursey of Inch, George Powell and Edward Sweetman of Newbawn.
It is important to record that at that stage the initial political evolutionary aims consisted merely of parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation. As it happened, evolution was frustrated and revolution resulted. The early supporters of the United Irishmen in County Wexford included the Protestants, such as Anthony Perry, George Sparks of Blackwater, Captain Mattie Keogh, a former British Army officer,  Henry Hughes of Ballytrent, Robert Graham of Inch and John Boxwell of Sarshill, Kilmore. Prominent County Wexford Catholics involved were Dr. John Henry Colclough of Ballyteigue Castle in Kilmore, John Haye, a former French Army officer, and his brother Edward of Ballinkeele, Nicholas Murphy of Monaseed, Edward Fitzgerald of Newpark, Edward Roche of Garrylocke, Nicholas Sweetman of Newbawn, Esmond Ryan of Mount Howard and James Edward Devereux of Carrickmannon. These are a litany of well known Wexford names.
The early members of this new society of revolutionary political thought were all well respected and widely connected men of substance. They were also possessed of one other vital political facility — they lived in well dispersed locations from the slopes of the Wicklow mountains to the Atlantic. The gathering conditions for revolt were, not surprisingly, facilitated by vicious political antagonisms as the new ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity were digested rapidly in a county still simmering under a century and a half of humiliation, confiscation and professional deprivation.
The United Irishmen, in alliance with the French, precipitated the insurrection which culminated in the south-east becoming a “theatre of war of appalling ferocity” in 1798, to quote a prominent modern day Wexford historian, Nicky Furlong. I want to record not a ghastly aftermath but the new fresh admirable expression of generous political activity which accompanied the early overwhelming success of the insurgents in County Wexford in May 1798.
When the capture of the administrative capital of the county, the port and town of Wexford, was effected by the insurgents, the United Irish Government, long discussed and agreed, took active and rapid shape in Wexford town on 31 May 1798. A general meeting of the inhabitants of the town and county, numbering up to 500, took place in the largest of Wexford's buildings, Kenny's Hall, in South Main Street — a building of obnoxious memory to many in Wexford at the time as Cromwell's residence and headquarters in October 1649.
Following the French revolutionary models, this Parliament of Wexford people, comprising two from each parish and totally different from the corporation and councils of factional privilege and impressive power in place the previous week, became what was variously described as the Directory, the Council of the People and more popularly the Senate of Wexford, representing broad popular support for the new Republic. Its role was to administer the new county under the existing wartime conditions.
What was the situation in Wexford on that remarkable birthday of democracy? It was one of unbounded optimism, hope and certainty that right and justice would prevail. The citizens army had swept across Wexford like a mighty wave with the amazing victories of Oulart Hill and the  garrisoned Enniscorthy town behind it. Now it controlled the capital of the region. Its self belief and determination were expressed in the fact that its army, under the elected Commander-in-Chief, Baganal Harvey, decided to divide into three divisions, one to march on Ross and Waterford, the other towards Arklow and the third to Newtownbarry and into the midlands. We are therefore looking at a scene of powerful conviction that the old world had changed forever, that Ireland and each individual person would be free and that a Government representative of all the people would replace the corrupt power of the royal and ancient regime. Was that dream too good to be true?
From the assembled citizens of Wexford in Kenny's Hall, a Directory or Cabinet was elected. It could not possibly have been more representative or generous in impulse. Eight members were elected to the governing council, four Catholics, three Church of Ireland and one Presbyterian. Its presiding officer, or Cathaoirleach, was a Protestant, a former British Army captain and a United Irishman, Matthew Keogh of Georges Street. It set about its citizens' business. Sovereignty had been taken and employed by the people.
Members of Seanad Éireann are their successors in ideals. Their enterprise did not meet with success but with cruel reverse. In less than four weeks the dream was swept away and havoc reigned. With the defeat of the United Irishmen, this innovative experiment in democracy was suppressed with great brutality and obliterated from the historic record. Its widespread support at all levels of Wexford society was denied in the anxious aftermath of 1798 and the Revolution was dismissively misrepresented as a mere peasant and sectarian event.
However, there was success. The men and women who were imprisoned, expelled, transported, sent by the boatload to penal colonies, such as the West Indies, Australia, North America or South America, brought with them the seeds of the ideals we take for granted. However, these ideals formed the most formidable building blocks of the greatest nations on earth today.
By recovering the real history of the Wexford republic, we reappropriate a profoundly democratic symbol and an inspiring example of an effort to construct a representative secular and pluralist politics on the island of Ireland. Two hundred years later it can again serve to encourage us towards that imaginative inclusiveness which the United Irishmen identified as being essential to unite Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter.
One of the flagship projects of the bicentenary commemorations was the reconvening of the Wexford Senate in 1998 at Johnstown Castle. I am proud to be one of those 500 members of the 1998 Wexford Senate who, together with Senator Maurice Hayes and Senator Walsh, are also Members of Seanad Éireann. Comprising exciting, original and diverse thinking and experience,  but separate from the narrow ground of party politics, the Wexford Senate can rethink Ireland in a global society so as to fully exploit her unique position as a member of the European Union, a post-colonial State and a nation opening up to her diaspora. It will fashion a distinctly Irish voice, confident and outward looking, born and nurtured in the wealth of the wider Irish experience.
As the Minister responsible for overseeing the Government's contribution to the commemoration of the bicentenary, it gave me great pleasure to officially launch the friends of Comóradh 1798 flagship project and I thank them for their commitment to reconvene the Wexford Senate. I want to put on record the commitment of Comóradh '98, the committee that was set up in 1988 in Wexford to plan and programme suitable commemorative projects for the bicentenary. This committee was set up by Enniscorthy Urban District Council and Wexford County Council. I congratulate both public officials and elected representatives for a decade of hard and committed work. I remember the chairpersons of Comóradh '98, the late councillor Andy Doyle, councillor Michael Sinnott and councillor Charlie Kavanagh, the present chairperson — a Labour, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael chairperson respectively, as befits the spirit of the commemoration.
Together with the new national 1798 centre in Enniscorthy, the Fr. Murphy Centre at Boolavogue, the project at Oulart and the heritage centre at Ferns, I am extremely proud of the commemorative projects undertaken in every village and population centre in County Wexford to the memory of the United Irishmen and women and their efforts to bring popular and pluralist democracy together in a new nation in the 1790s.
My thanks also — and I endorse the Minister of State's remarks — to the interdepartmental commemoration committee which like him I chaired during my time as Minister of State with responsibility in this area. The Minister of State's comments are well made and I support them. I wish to express my thanks for the service given to that committee over the years and through two Governments by Alice Kearney. I thank her and her colleagues for all their advice and support over the years. I also thank the historians from all over this island, particularly Kevin Whelan, Tom Bartlett, Nickey Furlong and Dáire Keogh for their help. The Minister of State has already referred to those people. I hope by listing people I have not omitted anyone. I fully endorse what the Minister of State said about the wonderful support given by them and I am extremely grateful to them all.
Again, I hope we have made the bicentenary open, inclusive and dynamic. I hope it spoke to the Irish people as a whole, including our diaspora, and that we use the 1790s as a vision and inspiration for the 1990s and beyond into the new millennium. Let us remind ourselves of the age old wisdom of the Book of Proverbs “Where there is no vision, people perish”. The United Irish had above all vision.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
 An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Before calling the next speaker I wish to thank the Minister of State and Senator Doyle for their planning and congratulate them on all that went on, in particular the Minister of State when he attended the recent event at the Croppies Acre. During the summer I had the pleasure to visit that exhibition in Enniscorthy. It was one of the finest exhibitions of its kind.
Mr. Walsh Mr. Walsh
Mr. Walsh: Aontaím go hiomlán leis an méid a dúirt an Leas-Chathaoirleach.
I thank the Leader for making time available for this important discussion. I also pay tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy Brennan, not only for his presence here but for his commitment and involvement in many events during the year all over the country. I thank his predecessor, Senator Doyle, for her contribution in ensuring there was an appropriate commemoration of 1798 this year, unlike the paltry commemoration we had in 1991 for the 75th anniversary of 1916. I hope people will realise the appropriate way to commemorate our historical achievements in the future.
While I jotted down some comments today I noted the milestones of Irish history and only six or more years stand out. These are as follows: the arrival of St. Patrick and the introduction of Christianity in 430 AD; the Norman invasion in 1169; the year 1690 would have been significant if I were a Unionist but it did not strike me as very important; 1798 undoubtedly is a milestone in our history because it spawned the concept of democracy in this country; the great famine in the 1840s which resulted in 70 million Irish disaspora scattered around the world who are ambassadors for Ireland and for what we as a people stand for; 1916 and the Easter Rising which culminated in our independence in 1922. In modern times the accession to the EC in 1973 would be a landmark date. As we become more removed from it its significance will be much more pertinent. I hope 1998 will mark the beginning of a rapprochement between the islands situated on the north-west corner of Europe and a rapprochement between the different traditions on this island. Inherent in the British-Irish Agreement are the ingredients that can re-ignite the vision and the flame that existed in 1798 between Catholics, Protestants and Dissenter alike.
This year we celebrated the bicentenary in good style. Tá an-bhród ormsa mar dhuine ó Loch Garman a bheith im sheasamh anseo i dTeach an Oireachtais i Stát saor neamhspleách chun imeachtaí 1798 a phlé agus a chomóradh. Earlier Senator Avril Doyle mentioned that not only is she a Member of Seanad Éireann but she is also a senator in the Wexford Senate. I can do one better because I am also a senator of the Junior Chamber International.
This year we have witnessed an extraordinary series of commemorations in Wexford and throughout the country, as the Minister of State pointed out. It has been an outstanding year of celebration. The county committee of Comóradh  1798 deserve great commendation for their efforts and initiatives, particularly for co-ordinating the parishes and arranging many very memorable public events during the year. Senator Avril Doyle has already mentioned the chairman of the committee councillor Charlie Kavanagh and I join with her to praise him and his predecessors the late councillor Michael Sinnott and councillor Andy Doyle. Both of whom in their capacity as former chairman laid the foundations for many of the events that took place this year. I must also mention Donal Minnoch, Bernard Brown, Brian Cleary, Dave Bernie and a host of other people, all of whom have given unselfishly of their time to ensure we had a very important part of our history commemorated in a manner that attracted public attention which could not have been anticipated prior to the events. The Minister of State has already mentioned the historians Dr. Kevin Whelan, Louis Cullen from New Ross, Nickey Furlong and many others. They all made a big contribution. Ach tá moladh faoi leith ag dul d'fhir agus do mhná na bpící a bhí i láthair ag gach morshiúl agus ócáid phoiblí i rith na bliana.
I wish to thank Bill Murray with regard the pikemen who at a certain stage late in the preparations decided to organise battalions of pikemen throughout Wexford. His idea spread further afield because we had a battalion from Meath who travelled to New Ross in County Wexford to take part in commemorations. Between 2,000 and 3,000 people were recruited as pikemen. Mr. Joe Cullen was present when the Taoiseach attended commemorations held in New Ross on 5 June. He felt there was a battalion missing and along with Eddie Bennett they formed the Three Buller Gate battalion which was a very historic part of New Ross. They ensured this area was represented in the overall parade of the pikemen. Their initiative and commitment is evident because they spent months training and marching so they could accurately represent and commemorate the pikemen of 1798. Above all their presence enhanced our public events and made a very significant contribution to the dignity of the commemoration.
It is good to remember and learn. Today we remember the 20,000 or more who died during the summer of 1798. We also remember 5 June for a number of reasons. First, on 5 June the battle of New Ross took place and it changed the course of the rebellion. Between 2,000 and 3,000 people reputedly died during that battle. While the insurgents had made great gains at a certain stage of the morning they were subsequently repulsed during which a local temporary hospital that had been set up to care for the injured was burned. We are led to believe that over 100 insurgents were burned in that inflagration. I mention this because we must remember the unpleasant aspects of the rebellion. For example, Scullabogue was a place where Protestants, women, children and elderly men were burned in a barn on the same day, 5 June. In many ways our history  has always affected the various traditions on this island, inflicting pain on one side or the other. I hope the British-Irish Agreement will lay the foundation stone so that events such as this or other events in more modern times such as the shooting, killing and torturing of innocent Catholics will never again be repeated here. We learn from history that the coming together of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter is a challenge to us today to recreate a climate of common purpose. Above all, if the British-Irish Agreement means anything, it should be a priority to bring together all traditions on this island in a common cause.
We learn also that the value of liberty, equality and fraternity — the essence of republicanism — is as important today as it was in 1798 or during the French Revolution. Equality of opportunity must be given to those who are marginalised, the poor, the disadvantaged and the disabled. We must ensure the Government creates policies for an inclusive society. I am proud to be a member of the party that espouses republicanism. This should be the cornerstone of all policies that emanate from the party and any Government of which we are members.
The 1798 rebellion followed in the wake of the American War of Independence in 1776 and the French Revolution in 1789. It provided the roots for our modern democracy. The rebellion was lost but the spirit lives on today. Our espousal of the ideals of those men of 1798, and put into practice in the last century, has led to the modern Ireland of which we are so proud. Many commentators stated that the recent visit of Tony Blair to this House was another watershed along that road. This is so, even though it may have been a lost opportunity. I accept that if the Prime Minister was unable to apologise for past mistreatment of Ireland during colonial rule, a tacit acknowledgment would have been a valuable contribution to the healing and reconciliation process, which is so necessary. There was a reference in his speech to forgiving and forgetting. Perhaps this was less than required. One must be mindful that events such as Bloody Sunday are close in proximity to the present day and we may have to wait a little longer for such apologies.
I listened with interest last night to the former Tánaiste, John Wilson, addressing the issue of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. As can be seen in South Africa, a very positive climate can be forged from past atrocities, pain and hurt by addressing them in an open manner. This can lance the pain and create healing and reconciliation. It is necessary that this should take place on this island, and between our islands, in order to create the climate we all want to see flourishing.
Leinster House should commemorate in a visible and lasting way its association with 1798. This House was owned by the FitzGerald family — Lord Edward FitzGerald was the Commander-in-Chief of the United Irishmen. It is important that the linkage we have with that family and with the events of 1798 should be commemorated. This  House is now the seat of the democracy to which the 1798 leaders aspired. This is another reason this House recognises the need for that tangible connection either by way of an exhibition, which has already been mooted, or an artistic or historical piece to portray the new Ireland envisaged by those who took part in the 1798 rebellion. The bicentenary should not be allowed pass without a proper and lasting commemoration in Leinster House.
I want to refer to Ballyhuskard and other graveyards in private ownership in County Wexford and elsewhere. There are no rights of access for relatives or the public to these graveyards. One can understand the concerns of owners of such properties regarding insurance liability in the event of such access. Local people have made a selfless contribution this year to identifying and cleaning these nationally important graveyards. However, posterity cannot depend on voluntary effort only. Consideration should be given to bringing this under the aegis of the Office of Public Works. The Minister should provide the budget to ensure the restoration of these monuments takes place because they have a valuable role to play in the future. Their preservation is essential and would be an ongoing reminder of the 1798 commemoration ceremonies which took place this year. The historian, Joe Doran, and other local historians have visited many of these graveyards. Mr. Doran listed graves of coach yeomen and rebels, and identified some of them. All that information should be collated. The graveyards should be maintained to ensure the inscriptions can be read and that they will be of interest to people who visit Ireland.
On a more parochial note — Senator Doyle will be familiar with this — there is an historic graveyard and church in our town, St. Mary's Church and cemetery. Like many Protestant churches with a Catholic graveyard beside them, it does not have the resources to be properly maintained. This has connections with 1798, but the church dates back to the arrival of the Normans. William Earl Marshall, reputedly one of the authors of the Magna Carta, married Isabella, the daughter of Strongbow, in that church. The Office of Public Works, or some such body, should have an input into the preservation of that part of our heritage. Unfortunately, small local authorities such as New Ross Urban District Council do not have the resources to provide funding for schemes such as this. I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Brennan, and the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, to consider extending the remit of these public agencies to ensure historic monuments are cleaned and refurbished. It is important on the tri-centenary of 1798 that there is obvious evidence that our generation cared and contributed to the preservation of our historic and cultural heritage.
The bicentenary should not only be the catalyst for Leinster House to appropriately, if belatedly, mark the era of aspiring to a new beginning but  to conserving our graveyards and rich historical heritage. We should dedicate ourselves to the ideals that inspired a generation to make the ultimate sacrifice by committing ourselves to ensuring that the last chapter of our bloody history has now commenced by bringing to a satisfactory conclusion the objectives of the British-Irish Agreement and by bringing Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter together in forging a new Ireland of which all traditions can be proud. Only then can we begin to write a new history of a new, free, independent, caring and self-confident Ireland. Only then can we proudly take our place among the nations of the world as a constructive and valuable member whose contribution far transcends our size or population.
Mr. B. Ryan Mr. B. Ryan
Mr. B. Ryan: Rud an-suimiúil ná go bhfuilimid ag caint faoi 1798 ach gur deineadh an comóradh faoi mar a deineadh é. Aontaím le gach rur atá ráite cheana féin ach an rud ba mhó a thugas faoi ndeara faoi cad a tharla le linn na bliana seo caite ná go raibh féin-mhuinín nua sa tír seo. Féin-mhuinín ionainn féin eadrainn féin faoi conas mar d'fhéachamar ar an stair. Chuamar ar aghaidh ón taobhachas a bhíodh ann agus cuimhnímís go raibh dhá thaobh ann. Nuair a bhí mise ag fás suas níor chualamar ach leath den scéal. Bhí cuid mhaith den bhfírinne ansin faoi stair na tíre ach caithfear a rá ó lár na seascaidí ar aghaidh níor chualathas ach an leath eile den scéal. Bhí tréaniarracht ar siúl ag intleachtóirí agus ag cuid mhaith stairithe a chur ina luí orainn go raibh an milleán go léir ar thaobh amháin den achrann sa tír seo. Is é atá tar éis tárlú anois, agus léiríonn an comhaontú a síníodh ar Aoine an Chéasta é seo, go bhfuilimid tar éis dul ar ais go dtí equalibrium maidir le stair na tíre.
Is é an equalibrium an bunáit is fearr chun féachaint ar aghaidh don todhchaí. Tá macántacht nua sa dearcadh atá ag gach éinne maidir le stair na tíre agus is as an mhacántacht sin a thiocfaidh todhchaí bunaithe ar an mhacántacht an ionad an leathphictiúir a bhíodh againn.
Sa féin-mhuinín nua atá againn tá sé tábhachtach a rá go raibh orainn cur i gcoinne gluaiseacht a bhí ag iarraidh le 30 nó 40 bliain anuas a ligint uirthi nach raibh aon stair ann.
We have moved remarkably far in the past 15 years, and perhaps even in the past five years. The courage of Deputy Albert Reynolds in particular, forced us to look at the whole of our story. From about 1970 until almost 1990, we had with some exceptions developed a view of ourselves and our problems which was so one-sided as to make a solution impossible. Wearing the engineers hat which I wear occasionally, I know the first thing you tell anybody is that you cannot solve a problem by leaving out half of it. The British-Irish Agreement represented the culmination of a willingness to represent the complexity of our history, something which had been missing for most of the Troubles. The complexity of our history was diluted into a one dimensional view that if only the Provisional IRA would go away, the  problem would be solved. It was never as simple as that and neither was our history.
It was an achievement for both Senator Doyle and the Minister to put together a commemoration which drew the strands of our history together while, at the same time, not denying any of our history. It is extremely important that we should not deny any of our history and — I know it was a carefully selected word — that we did not have a celebration of 1798 but a commemoration. There are many reasons not to celebrate such events.
There were many reasons for celebrating wars which I find distasteful. For example, it is worth remembering that 30,000 people died. Senator Walsh stated that it was 20,000 but I do not know whether it was 20,000 or 30,000 — I am not sure anybody knows, but it was a great many people. It represents one in every 1,000 of the population of the time and, most assuredly, one in every 500 of the adult population of the time. It was an enormous number and, considering that there were sections of the country like my present place of residence, Cork, in which there was relatively little activity, the scale of the death and slaughter was enormous. One British historian suggested that in fact more people died in absolute numbers as opposed to per capita in and after 1798 on this island than died in France in the reign of terror after the French Revolution.
When we commemorate something like that we do ourselves a disservice if we let ourselves believe that all our wars were glorious as long as they are long time ago and it is only our recent activities which are distasteful, and that the more recent the war, the more distasteful it becomes. If we have anything to remember, it is that war and violence are always brutal and savage and there never has been a noble war. No matter how noble the objective, warfare brings out the worst in all of us. Some of the massacres mentioned are examples of this.
We need not be apologetic. The people of this island have been probably responsible for the deaths of fewer innocent people per capita than virtually any other country in Europe. Far from being the most bloodthirsty nation in Europe, as some of our commentators would have had us believe over the past 30 years, we are probably the least violent and warlike. We do not have this extraordinary tradition. Some of the events we called rebellions, in particular the rebellion of Robert Emmet, the memory of whom I am not denigrating, were hardly much more than a riot in one street, the consequences of which were enormous. We have built events into rebellions.
The 1798 Rebellion has wonderful overtones of tragedy about it. It enables us to follow a pointless exercise which is worth doing at a time like this. There was a movement towards independence within the then Irish Parliament and that tendency was far from popular at Westminster. It was being driven by those who had representation in that Parliament. It is worth remembering  that it still took large scale bribery to bring about the end of the Irish Parliament in 1801 in the Act of Union.
Although I would not argue with the Minister when he said that after 1798 came the division of Unionism and Nationalism, I would quibble about it. That division was always there to a degree but it was never as easily divided between Catholics and Protestants as was stated by many of the historians who wrote and attempted to rewrite our history in the past 50 years. One particularly eminent historian who was never a Member of this House wrote a colourful and interesting history of Ireland over the past number of hundreds of years. The history is decorated with good pen pictures of eminent people but he never managed to mention in them that Thomas Davis, John Mitchell or a number of other such people were Protestants because that did not fit a particular objective which was to show that there were seeds of sectarianism in the impulse towards Irish independence from the very beginning, and there were not. The impulse towards independence in this island was not a sectarian impulse. It is undoubtedly true that it was tainted by people who had sectarian objectives. However, notwithstanding everything which has been said and done in the name of nationalism, it may be said that Irish nationalism is not sectarian in its motivation. People who have been Nationalist have been sectarian and people have behaved in a sectarian fashion from within organisations which are part of the Nationalist spectrum. However, it is wrong to suggest that the GAA, Conradh na Gaeilge or even Fianna Fáil — I will be generous for once — are in some way sectarian. Irish nationalism is not sectarian. It can be, and has been, insensitive to the feelings of minority religions and can be quite capricious. However, it is important to say that the impulse of those who drove the vehicle of Irish nationalism since the 18th century was never sectarian.
Cardinal Ó Fiaich once said that people should understand the difference between the different forms of sectarianism on this island. He was promptly misrepresented when he said Catholic sectarianism was essentially political and Protestant sectarianism was essentially religious. This was a perceptive remark for which he was hung, drawn and quartered by a large section of the liberal establishment. The point he was making was that Catholics do not have an inherent hostility to Protestantism, but there is a section of the Protestant tradition which has been brought up with an hostility to Roman Catholicism. This is an important point if one is to understand our history and I hope this is what the commemoration of 1798 is about.
We are not celebrating the deaths of 30,000 people. No one wants to do that. However, apart from the formality, an occasion like this helps us to understand ourselves. This is a good time to understand ourselves better. There has been a tendency to sneer at Irish independence. I am as  good a critic of this State and its limitations as anyone and we will talk about that some other day. However, there has been 700 years of an unequal relationship. I am not sure I agree with Senator Walsh that Tony Blair should have apologised. It is worth recording again that while dreadful things have been done——
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I am sorry to interrupt the Senator but I wish to call the Acting Leader.
Mr. T. Fitzgerald Mr. T. Fitzgerald
Mr. T. Fitzgerald: I am sorry for this interruption. I apologise to the House because unfortunately, the Minister of State has to leave. The arrangements made with his office was for his presence in the House from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. I hope the House will appreciate we could not arrange for someone to deputise for the Minister of State at such short notice. The Minister of State is not being disrespectful to the House. One of his officials will remain in the House to take note of the comments made by Senators. I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and apologise to Senator Ryan for the interruption.
Mr. B. Ryan Mr. B. Ryan
Mr. B. Ryan: I understand the Minister of State's position.
People on both islands have done things. However, that is not to say we should pretend the relationship was not far from equal. It serves no historical purpose or the cause of reconciliation to leave the truth of the relationship out of the equation. It was a very unequal relationship because of population, historical and religious discrimination and colonial attitudes. It is probably too simplistic to describe the relationship between Britain and Ireland as similar to that of a colonial relationship between Great Britain and an African colony. There was a slightly colonial attitude until recently. One must remember that liberal parts of the British media were astonished when an Irish judge described Britain as a foreign country when attempting to ban a book. Ms Justice Carroll said she could not understand how the interests of a government of a foreign country could be used as a reason to prevent the publication of a book in this State. Large sections of the British media were taken aback at the idea that an Irish judge would see Britain as a foreign country. She was not talking about some alien culture but about jurisdiction, and which government has jurisdiction in which area.
We serve no purpose by pretending these differences do not exist, any more than any purpose was served in the past by a simplistic equation which wrote out of our history the existence of a quarter of the population who were not Roman Catholics. Every week we see the difficulty with which we are now beginning to grapple, namely, attempting to reconcile those two traditions. This is a difficult process and shooting people is about the worst way one could go about reconciliation.
People can talk about destiny or fate. The British-Irish Agreement happened in the year in  which we are looking back on the 1798 Rebellion with a detached capacity which we did not always have. This allows us to talk about these issues without calling each other names or blaming one country or another. There is no point in attributing blame to the present generation of British politicians for what happened before. We are entitled to fully understand ourselves and events like the commemoration of 1798 help us to do so.
It is an extraordinary commentary that Professor Kevin Whelan is the most prominent historical adviser. It is not so long ago that he was an unpopular figure in Irish historical circles as he was one of the first to suggest there was a new balance to be restored in terms of understanding our history. I am glad we are back to a position of balance.
I hope we are moving on and can look back dispassionately. I have always been taken by something in Seán Ó Faoláin's biography of Daniel O'Connell, King of the Beggars. It is a book well worth reading. One of the dimensions of our history which needs to be understood is the contempt in which the residues of the old Gaelic aristocracy held the ordinary peasantry. Ó Faoláin notes this as one of the great shocks he experienced when researching Daniel O'Connell. The leftovers of the old Gaelic aristocracy had abandoned their own people by the end of the 18th century. It is extraordinary that so many of the leaders of the 1798 Rebellion were from the Ascendancy, so few of whom had any historical connection with the old Irish Gaelic aristocracy. The degree to which this disconnection had happened is one of the peculiarities of our history which we need to work through. That is why O'Connell became known as “King of the Beggars” as he organised the ordinary Catholic population. Catholic emancipation was not his greatest achievement. His greatest achievement was creating the willingness to once again aspire to it among a population which had felt abandoned for almost 150 years — a long period in history.
It is interesting that we have worked out a little bit of our history and now have an ability to reconcile ourselves with it. It is also interesting that Scotland, one of our nearest neighbours, is beginning to realise that independence, properly developed, sensibly rooted and forward looking can often give a small state a dynamism not derived from participation in a larger entity. It is therefore extraordinary that we commemorate 1798 when at last we have the prospect of a settlement on this island, a level of economic performance nobody dreamed the island was capable of and when the inspirational cry of liberté, egalité, fraternité perhaps needs to be vigorously reinserted in our vocabulary. In this State we now have the most unequal income distribution in the developed world. I do not believe in only equality of opportunity. I believe in equality. Equality of opportunity is a misnomer. We could reinsert many of those slogans into our political debate. Otherwise we are likely to sow the seeds of other unpleasant disaffection on this island.
Labhrás Ó Murchú Labhrás Ó Murchú
 Labhrás Ó Murchú: Is mian liom tréaslú leis an Aire agus le Coiste Comórtha 1798 as an obair a dhein siad. Dhein siad an obair seo go héifeachtúil agus go torthúil. An rud is tábhachtaí ná gur tharla an comóradh seo ar bhonn an-leathan ar fud na tíre agus taobh amuigh di freisin agus gur i measc an phobail is mó a bhí an comóradh.
Táimid go mór faoi chomaoin ag na coistí áitiúla toisc an obair fhiúntach a dhein siadsan freisin. Bhí sin soiléir i ngach áit gur theastaigh uathu comóradh a dhéanamh ar mhisneach agus ar dhúthracht na ndaoine a ghlac páirt sa réabhlóid seo.
Beidh tuiscint níos fearr tar éis na bliana seo ní amháin ar '98 ach ar an stair i gcoitinne mar ní sheasann aon chuid de stair na hÉireann léi féin. Tá gach eachtra a tharla sa stair ceangailte le eachtra eile agus ní gá ach féachaint ar gach réabhlóid sa tír le 800 bliain anuas go raibh an scéal amhlaidh.
I compliment the Minister and the Coiste Comóradh '98 for the fine programme of events organised throughout the country. One of the most important aspects of the commemoration was the fact that it happened at all. It happened on a very broad base and largely grew from local community endeavours.
Throughout the past year, I had the privilege of being invited to many parts of Ireland to deliver orations at 1798 commemorations. These extended from Mayo to Cork and Clare to Dublin. In Clare, it was held in a very small graveyard where one individual to whom a monument had been erected 100 years ago was commemorated. His name was O'Donovan. On hearing of the Rising in Wexford, he travelled by foot from Clare across the mountains and participated in the Rebellion and survived. He returned home to find that his house had been destroyed. He subsequently ended up in exile in France.
There was a commemoration at the foot of Sliabh na mBan. Many Senators are familiar with the 1798 aspect in the Irish language version of Sliabh na mBan. We reminisced about what might have happened if things had been different.
At all the commemorations it struck me very forcefully that they were organised on a community basis. No particular organisation was involved; large numbers were not involved. There were 300 or 400 people at each commemoration ceremony. However there was a determination on the part of those involved to ensure there was a fitting, dignified and meaningful commemoration of the courage, commitment, sacrifices and the ideology of those involved.
This year we also had the 150th anniversary of the Young Irelanders. At all the events I attended, particularly in Tipperary, in connection with the Young Ireland movement, reference was made to 1798. Reference was also made to the Famine and subsequent periods of Irish history, such as the Fenians in 1916 and the War of Independence. At all the events references were made right up to the peace process in the North.
 The point being made was that if 1798 had not happened, subsequent risings in Ireland against oppression, coercion and interference in our affairs from outside the country might not have happened. It was important that subsequent movements learned a lot from the events of 1798. If my statistics are correct, one-sixth of the population of Wexford at that time died in the 1798 Rebellion. That is difficult to understand; it is difficult to engage statistics like that.
Last Saturday night I attended a dramatised version of the 1798 Rebellion in Dún Mhuire Hall in Wexford town. One line in the script by Nicholas Furlong struck home in a very deep way. The line went something like “You out there in the dark, someone belonging to you died in '98.” That is the one of the reasons 1798, more than any other period in Irish history, struck a chord among ordinary people in Wexford, Mayo and other parts of Ireland.
In the early 1960s when I was a timire with Conradh na Gaeilge, Wexford was one of my counties. I used to reside there from time to time. I was struck by the living history of 1798, even more so than the history of 1916 or the War of Independence. It was not just the stone monuments which dot the towns and countryside throughout Wexford, it was the way people spoke about that period as if it happened only yesterday. Obviously part of it was folklore, part was a partisan interest. However, given the short period of 200 years, most of it must have been accurate. Nobody would deny there is a propaganda aspect to 1798, as there is to every other aspect of Irish history. However nobody in this House could point to an independence movement in any part of the world, small or big, which did not propagandise its own involvement in a war. Over the years I watched various films in cinemas and it was clear that the makers of the films, depending on their origins, had bent a propaganda element into their explanation of the war subject.
We do not need to be reminded too often that war is not glorious. War is brutal. War is tragic. War is devastating. War is inhuman. When we commemorate, we commemorate courage and ideals. Particularly in relation to 1798 we can commemorate a raw courage which has seldom been experienced in any part of the world.
For that reason, while it is right to set the record straight, we must always be careful not to have an in-built revisionism for the sake of political expediency. The generosity of spirit of each individual who is motivated by goodwill will ensure we will not endeavour to build on hatred or bitterness. However, we must recognise the sacrifices made for our freedom, sovereignty and control of our own destiny. If we did not do that we would create a further division in society by inflicting hurt on the descendants of those people involved in all episodes of Irish history who suffered loss with no chance of personal gain — careers were ruined, lives were lost and families were hindered. Those descendants would feel  hurt if we misrepresented what was done on our behalf.
I read a letter in the Evening Echo written by Paddy Berry, an exceptionally fine ballad singer. The fact that we had so many fine ballads, particularly from County Wexford, kept the memory of 1798 alive and passed on an unabridged history — and perhaps an adorned one — from generation to generation. In his letter, Paddy Berry paid compliment to the pikemen and women, particularly of Wexford, and the fact that they did not confine their endeavours to that county. I spoke to a number of them at different commemorations and one group said they travelled to County Meath and attended no fewer than 12 different functions in one day. They helped many areas and were not selfish in confining their activities to Wexford.
Paddy Berry wrote of their enthusiasm, commitment and idealism. I spoke to many of them and it was not an empty display on their behalf, there was a great comradeship among them. I understand they were decommissioned to some extent last Sunday. I missed that by a short period as I was in Wexford town. However, I had the opportunity to meet them again. Paddy Berry suggested that if they were not going to use their pikes they might replace them with mummer's sticks. He focused on the Fleadh Ceoil in Enniscorthy next August. It is a major event supported by all religious denominations and all political affiliations and is a great celebration of the diversity which exists in Ireland. The involvement in this event of the people in Wexford who participated in this year's commemorations would be positive and ongoing.
I agree that in many ways one can identify the British-Irish Agreement with past events. That is correct and is the way it should be. History should not be seen as sterile or as a maudlin type of exhibitionism. It should not salve consciences. It must be used as a beacon for the future and that beacon must be one of hope. If the men and women involved in 1798 and previous or subsequent rebellions could have foreseen the British-Irish Agreement, they would have been happy.
We are privileged to have the opportunity of expressing our views in an official context. I hope that if anything comes from the 1798 commemoration, it will not only be that we commemorated courage and idealism but that at the same time we proved ourselves to be worthy inheritors of those great men and women. I congratulate everyone on the island of Ireland and abroad who participated in one of the most long standing and edifying commemorations in our history.
Mr. O'Dowd Mr. O'Dowd
Mr. O'Dowd: Some years ago I was in a book shop before I went on holidays and I picked up a book by Marianne Elliot, an author I had not read before, entitled The United Irishmen and France: Partners in Revolution. I read it and discovered the true history of 1798. Marianne Elliot is one of the best writers I have read on the subject which she has researched in France, Ireland  and America. Her work led me to wish to learn more about the United Irishmen — not just about 1798 but that whole period of Irish history, starting with the American Revolution and the French Revolution of 1789 and their influence on Ireland. I discovered a great deal about that period.
We have to remain politicians as we cannot be historians. The history books speak to us about the facts of that time. It is our job to draw the threads of those times together and make them practical and realistic in today's world. These are two separate matters. From a historic point of view, what have been missing in this commemorative year are articles on the Defenders. It is true that in the 1790s, the United Irishmen eventually became the leaders of the revolutionary forces. However, it was the ordinary citizens and poor people of Ireland who became the first revolutionaries. The spirit and knowledge of the French Revolution was disseminated by Thomas Paine through the distribution of thousands of the pamphlet The Rights of Man. Practically every citizen in the country was aware of the French Revolution and the revolutionary slogan of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”. The impact of the French Revolution on the thinking of ordinary people is not clearly understood by present day commentators.
I wish to talk about the Defenders in County Louth. There was a small revolution in County Louth in the 1790s. It was not nationalism, although it was driven by the ideals of the French Revolution. However, economic conditions and increasing poverty brought people from being passive absorbers of information about changes in revolutionary France to becoming active participators in bringing about a revolution in their own country.
In those days the majority of the poor were Catholics who had no rights, no parliament and no vote. The emerging Catholic middle class was becoming stronger and more wealthy, particularly in cities such as Dublin, Cork and Belfast and in towns such as Drogheda in County Louth and Navan in County Meath. They wished to make an economic argument. Because the Catholic middle class did not have the right to sit in parliament or to vote, they led a demand for political change. In many ways, they gave the Defenders leadership and funding. In County Louth there is evidence of the importation of arms to places like Termonfeckin and of guns being imported in stone chests. There are all sorts of wonderful and weird stories.
The people were changing because they wanted equality which was the main issue of the day and it remains the issue today. Equality, brotherhood and liberty were revolutionary traditions at that time. The 1792 Defender uprising took place not only in County Louth but also in Counties Meath, Cavan, Monaghan and Down. If one reads the newspapers of the day or the columns of Faulkner's Journal, Saunder's Newsletter or other press, the activities in Counties Louth,  Meath, Cavan and Monaghan dominate the headlines for as long as two years. The way that revolution was put down in County Louth impacted greatly on public opinion and changed the concept of how equality and liberty could be brought about under the system which was in place at the time. The United Irishmen filled that void much later in the day. They were just about founded in 1792 when the Defender rising took place in County Louth. From a historical perspective, we should pay due homage to the people who were not United Irishmen but who made sacrifices in their lives to bring about the changes they wanted.
The idea of liberty, equality and fraternity provided leadership to the United Irishmen who, together with the Catholic middle class, were able to bring about a change in thinking and to unite Catholics and Protestants in the enlightened tradition of the day to fight the forces of reaction which were epitomised by John Foster. He was the last speaker of the Irish House of Parliament and his portrait hangs downstairs. He was one of the leaders of the forces of reaction and was a Louthman who lived in Collon. Evidence of the conflict of the time may be found in the history books of County Louth and in the trial of the Drogheda business people in 1792. From reading that trial, one may see how the national question was crystallised in a local trial.
What I would like to see emerge from what we call the commemoration of 1798 is that we encourage scholarship and debate and for schools in particular to get involved in this area in the years ahead. I note the National Library makes some material available on-line. One may go on-line to find material if one wishes to study this area. To study local history properly, all the national newspapers of the day and the local journals need to be put on-line so that a student or a group of students in transition year who wish to study what happened in 1794 or 1795 may go on line, access the National Archives, down load material and study it. This cannot be done at the moment. A person must come to Dublin to access this material. Obviously, this is very difficult for students in second level schools.
Following our debate, a request should be made to the Minister to look at investment in a scholarship so that this area is actively promoted in post-primary schools and that money is given to the National Library to bring these important documents, which may only be seen by researchers, alive and bring them to children in schools who would be in a position to make good use of them.
The recent visit of Tony Blair was significant and important. I was delighted he came to this House, and I was delighted with his speech. It is true Ireland has made significant progress. The cause of unity is to the fore. People are working together economically, politically and socially and not under any flag so they may reach their true potential and become fulfilled in our society,  North and South. Mr. Blair's visit brings the ideals of that time to us. This country has made a great leap forward in the recent past and both this and the last Government have done much to bring that about.
When we talk of the men of 1798 we talk about the issues of the day — equality, brotherhood and working together. The British-Irish Agreement brings together the different traditions in this country which also existed in 1798. Those were extremely difficult times and it is very hard for us to understand or even comprehend the difficulties of those days which still exist.
Politicians in the South have shown leadership, fraternity and brotherhood to our Protestant and Catholic friends in the North. In particular, I pay tribute to my party leader, Deputy John Bruton, who, more than any other leader of a modern Irish political party, has held out the hand of friendship to the Unionist community, this is terribly important. We must come together and there must be a meeting of minds and cultures. We must offer true and positive leadership and this must also be offered by those on the other side. The Unionist people and their leadership must show an even greater willingness to co-operate and work together. I pay particular tribute to Deputy John Bruton for the work he has done in this area which will, in the future, be shown to have been a very brave and important thing to do.
This is an important debate and I enjoyed listening to the excellent contributions. Where do we go from here? This should not be an empty Seanad debate sitting in someone's office gathering dust. That is not what we want; we want to bring it alive. What better way to commemorate that period than by learning more about it? We should have a properly funded scholarship or whatever. Transition year students are ideally placed to do this work, study their local history, get the information and produce interesting, informative and lively documents relating to the past. History is as dead as a doornail, or as the Seanad volumes, unless it is brought alive and this may be done by learning about it, by making it positive and by making constructive use of the knowledge we have so that in years to come the benefits of the past may be used. There is nothing as bad as people being caught up in the whirl of history, going around in circles and blowing their own trumpet all the time. Politics is about bringing about change.
Senator Avril Doyle who, as Minister, was responsible for starting the commemoration of 1798 used the romantic names of Theobald Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCraken, Edward FitzGerald and so on. I compliment her on the work she did. This is an important debate and I stress again that we must continue to do something positive and constructive about it.
Acting Chairman (Mr. R. Kiely) Acting Chairman (Mr. R. Kiely)
Acting Chairman (Mr. R. Kiely): According to the Order of Business, as amended, this debate must conclude at 6 o'clock but there are two  Senators offering. Senators Mooney and Costello have 15 and 20 minutes, respectively. While the debate can be extended, I would prefer it to end at 6 p.m. Would the Senators agree to share time? Agreed.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: I compliment Senator Avril Doyle for initiating the debate. It was worthwhile and I share her off the record view that an hour is ludicrously short. Whoever decided that must have thought there was little interest in the debate. The downside is that the Minister of State was not able to stay for all the debate.
I compliment the Government on its work in this area and endorse Senator O'Dowd's remarks about Senator Doyle's role when Minister of State in initiating the national commemoration committee. I remember casting envious eyes from my fastness in Leitrim at the money pouring into local organisations in Wexford, but Senator Doyle had perfect justification for it. First, she was from Wexford; I would have done the same for Leitrim. Second and more important was the historical justification. It is important the Government was involved and that a continuity was lent to the commemoration given the change in Government.
I pay tribute to the outstanding local involvement. While the Government, being able to provide some funding, provided an incentive, it was the spirit in which people involved themselves which was important. I pay special tribute to the ordinary people of County Wexford, those to whom Mark Killilea referred as people who eat their dinner in the middle of the day. Their contribution was best exemplified by a comment of one of the pikemen interviewed on RTÉ at the closing ceremony last weekend. He spoke passionately about the children around him and finished by saying he would die for them. I do not think he meant it literally but he was caught up in the passion and emotion of the moment. I was told at the start of this wonderful year of commemoration that the Wexford people saw 1798 as something which happened yesterday and not 200 years ago, that other irrelevant world events such as the First and Second World Wars and the 1916 Rising did not have much of an impact but what happened in 1798 did and lived on in every village.
Having justifiably complimented the Wexford people, my other reason for contributing to the debate is to acknowledge the work of my people in County Leitrim. I was fortunate that Leitrim County Council agreed to set up a commemoration committee in the county, of which I was chairman. We drew together many local historians and received tremendous assistance from the county librarian, Seán Ó Súilleabháin, who was able to provide all the necessary historical documents and perspective on the role of the county in 1798. It was different to that of Wexford in that it centred almost exclusively on the arrival and passage of General Humbert and his army from Killala through the entirety of County  Leitrim, which is unusual, from the Sligo border in the west to the Longford border in the east, and further on the ill-fated march to Ballinamuck. It was an attempt to inform the new generation to ensure the spirit of 1798 and all it stood for would not be forgotten and might act as a catalyst in the new millennium. I am sure the motivation was the same for Wexford and other parts of the country.
That was the reason we tried to have every town and village associated with the Humbert march involved, and we were successful. There was a magnificent response from local communities stretching from Dromahair to Drumkeeran to Drumshanbo to Keshcarrigan to Cloone, where the Humbert army camped overnight before going on to Ballinamuck, and from other towns which had an indirect association, such as Car-rick-on-Shannon, to where many of those hunted down and captured were taken and unceremoniously hanged. Historic evidence indicates the English, true to form, were not satisfied with killing them. They put the prisoners through the gruesome process of handing each a note on which the word “execute” was written and every 21st person was then selected to be hanged.
That leads back to something Senator Walsh said about the visit of Prime Minister Blair. It is sometimes not politically correct to state it but Irish people have always been aware of the appalling savagery the yeomanry and other English forces visited upon them. I remember the song “The Croppy Boy” as a small child and the infamous Major Sir. It may seem to outsiders as perpetuating the bloodletting but it is part of our history and is what happened. Our people were treated in the most appalling manner. It would have been timely and acceptable for Prime Minister Blair to have acknowledged that savagery inflicted on the vast majority of innocent people in Ireland, who were hunted down and had no response to the savagery, and that he would have apologised for it. The Japanese have belatedly and reluctantly done so to the Chinese and Koreans. It would have been a right and proper thing for the Prime Minister to have done and I endorse Senator Walsh's remarks in that regard.
I also pay tribute to the group of historians associated with the Leitrim committee, especially Father Liam Kelly. Out of the deliberations of the committee emerged a book, A Flame Now Quenched, published by Lilliput Press and widely available in all bookstores. It adds to the knowledge of 1798 and, while it is one of many publications now available on the era, it not only tells the story of the Humbert march through Leitrim in 1798 but also sets in historical context the years preceding 1798.
People from Wexford might be interested to know that the people of Leitrim and of the Border counties already had the most awful experience prior to 1798 and that their revolutionary ardour had been literally beaten out of them by that time. It is one of the sad reflections of history that, if Hoche had been successful in landing in  Bantry Bay in 1796, the course of Irish history would have changed, and this would have affected the entire country rather than as happened in 1798, uprisings only occurred in certain parts of Ireland. While it resulted in the military failure of the Irish forces, it also resulted in the ultimate success of the establishment of democracy and a republic.
The debate and the year of commemoration have been important. I acknowledge the outstanding work of The Irish Times in its publication of the 1798 diary compiled and edited by Ruan O'Donnell. I had the pleasure of meeting him last Saturday at the reincarnation of the Back Lane Parliament, which was the start of political agitation. It was the first time Catholic Ireland came together and set up a representative parliament to submit to the king the proposal that the penal laws be relaxed and that some be eliminated. It spoke for Nationalist Catholic Ireland against the Protestant establishment. Sadly, the war of 1793 between France and England intervened and the men of peace were swept aside leaving the way clear for 1798.
It is a fascinating period of history and one which has been rekindled and reawakened by the initiative of people such as Senator Doyle in her capacity as Minister, continued by the Minister of State, Deputy Séamus Brennan, and by all those associations and organisations across the country. I agree with Senator O'Dowd that it should not be lost to a new generation of students, be they at primary, second or third level. I hope a collection of the events and the literary work about 1798 and the nineties in general will be available on CD-ROM.
Mr. Costello Mr. Costello
Mr. Costello: I thank Senator Mooney for sharing his time with me. I will begin by referring to a point raised by Senators Mooney, O'Dowd and others. We must ensure we do not forget the events of 1798 once the bicentenary celebrations are over. We should find a mechanism to enshrine it in a useful educational fashion.
We witnessed the decommissioning of the Pike in Enniscorthy last Sunday. At the conclusion of the ceremonies the pikes were put back in the patch. Perhaps there is a message in that about how we might do business in the North. I am thinking of how we might bring forward the message, principles and celebrations of 1798. We debated the George Mitchell Scholarship Fund yesterday whereby the State will provide an investment fund of £2 million which will be augmented by private sector funding and is open to various donations of property, etc. to enable American scholars to come to an Irish institution and benefit from the type of vision, in educational terms, that inspired the successful negotiations of the British-Irish Agreement. The George Mitchell Scholarship Fund was inspired by that success which in many ways reflects the basic principles of 1798. I wonder if what we are trying to achieve  here could be attached to that fund? We are talking about conflict resolution, principles of equality, liberty and fraternity. This is the bicentenary of 1798 and is the year in which I hope we will reach a solution to the seemingly irreconcilable problems in Northern Ireland. A solution to that problem would be a continuation of the principles enshrined in 1798 as a result of the French Revolution, the American Revolution, the Rights of Man — written by Thomas Payne — and that maelstrom of thinking in the United Irishmen that swept across the western European world and America. Perhaps we might look at this in those terms. The Government might assist in a scholarship or educational fund as it has in the George Mitchell Scholarship Fund to commemorate the British-Irish Agreement and the people behind it. That is one way we might progress.
I congratulate Senator Doyle who initiated the commemorative committee during her term of office as Minister in the last Government and who determined the parameters under which that committee would work. She set in motion the process of commemorating 1798. We owe her our congratulations. I am glad she is here today; she made a substantial contribution to the debate because of her Wexford background and her knowledge of the area. I also congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Brennan, for continuing in the same spirit of commemoration and for not taking a triumphalist approach like many of our previous commemorations of Irish history. The centenary celebrations in 1898 were militant, gave rise to the establishment of Sinn Féin and led to the 1916 Rising. In 1998 we are benefiting, not from the military side of 1798 or the militancy it engendered, but from the guiding principles which lay behind it. We have come full circle. We have a much more balanced view of what happened for democracy at the end of the 18th century in relation to principles of liberty, equality, fraternity, the rights of man and human rights.
It is interesting that tomorrow, 10 December 1998, we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. That document was put together to reconcile the different ideologies of east and west — western democracy and eastern Communism. People were able to meet on the basic principle of human rights. Human rights and the rights of man are very much at the core of what happened in Ireland in 1798.
We must not forget the slaughter which took place or try to hide the fact that this was an extremely brutal period. In 1798, 30,000 people were slaughtered in a few months. That gives an indication of the substantial nature of the conflict. In 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland only 3,000 people lost their lives — and I do not mean that in a derogatory sense. In the context of 1798 30,000 people — most of them in Wexford — lost their lives in a couple of months. That was preceded and followed by the pitchcap, the bayonet,  the gibbet and the rack in many parts of the country and precipitated some of the rebellion.
Dublin had a much quieter commemoration than other parts of the country. It is a pity we did not spend more time commemorating 1798 in Dublin. I attended the Croppies Acre commemoration two weeks ago outside Collins Barracks. That is the only established memorial to the events of 1798 in Dublin. The Back Lane Parliament in 1792 was also part of the ceremony. It is a very fine memorial and I am glad we established it.
Wexford has been well rehearsed here today by Senators Doyle, Walsh and others. When the French landed at Killala they marched up to Collooney, across to Ballymote and on to Leitrim. It is interesting that everywhere they went ordinary countryfolk flocked to their standard. We have no proper concept of how extensive the ideas were abroad. People witnessed this liberation and came from the fields, grabbed the pike and assisted them. At that time anybody in their right mind would have seen that the small force of Frenchmen was unlikely to overwhelm the country and that the superior British forces were likely to be successful. Afterward, slaughter occurred on a massive scale at Ballinamuck. That part of the 1798 rebellion must also be remembered.
It benefits no one to become involved in revisionism or to try to play down the awfulness of the events which occurred in 1798. However, it is important to concentrate on what lay at the heart of the Rebellion, namely, a people who had been oppressed for centuries grasping at the wonderful new ideas which gave them a sense of equality, freedom and liberty. These people were prepared to meet any challenge and face certain death in support of their beliefs. That shows the extent and power of the ideals of 1798 which remain at the heart of democracy, justice and, in the long term, peace. Using such ideals is the only way a peaceful resolution can be reached.
I am glad we had an opportunity to debate the 1798 Rebellion, place on record our pride in what people did — some in extremely difficult circumstances — at that time and to recognise the importance of the insurrection to the history of this country. We hope that the ideals and principles of 1798 continue to remain a part of our heritage and that they will not fall into disuse. We must find a mechanism to ensure that they become a vibrant and educational set of principles to inspire future generations. Perhaps we can now contemplate writing the epitaph of Robert Emmet who died not in 1798 but in 1803 and who requested that said epitaph should not be written until this country was free.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: On a point of information, in complimenting Senator Avril Doyle I omitted to mention that a Wexford alliance initiated this debate. In that context, I wish to place on record my compliments to Senator Walsh.
Seanad Éireann 157 Bicentenary of 1798: Statements.